Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  40. Fair enough. So the Sea Dart contains obsolete components and that would be harder to maintain as the missiles become older. Are you going to be able to ensure a supply of components and what steps are you taking so to do?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) We take enormous efforts to defeat obsolescence on this missile. They are old-fashioned components. It looks like ironmongery inside because it is ironmongery and the good news about that is that although it is expensive to make a small production run of these components, there is no technological barrier to replacing the Sea Dart components. It is 1960s technology.

  41. We are told that running on the Type 42 destroyers would cost an additional £565 million. What action are you taking under Smart Acquisition to minimise this enormous and may I suggest wasted cost due to incompetence of running on the Type 42?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) There is very little that can be done now to constrain the cost of the Type 42 destroyer. The first one, HMS Sheffield, started construction in the 1960s and the costs of the ship are very much dependent on the design of the ship and the equipment on it and the size of the crew. More than one quarter of the cost of running on a Type 42 destroyer by comparison with the new Type 45 derives from the crew size; about another 70 people per ship. The second significant element, which is in fact slightly more significant even than the crew, is the consumption of spare parts. It is not surprising that towards the end of a ship's life it does start to consume spare parts as things wear out. I should also say that PAAMS, the new Principal Weapons System on the ship, will be much cheaper to maintain than Sea Dart. Finally, we are putting new engines into the Type 45 which will consume less fuel and as a result of consuming less fuel and as a result of needing fewer stores, there will be a lesser attribution of Royal Fleet Auxiliary supply ships in order to support the ship. You can see that not much can be done to restrain that on a Type 42. These are all steps forward when comparing a Type 42 with the new Type 45.

  42. But the money is lost.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) The money has not yet been spent because the Type 45 destroyer, even if at its earliest, is not due to come into service until 2002. The money will be incurred as a result of the replacements for the Type 42s coming in on average about five years later over 11 ships at a cost of £10 million per year per ship and that is as near as makes no difference £550 million. That has been accompanied by a deferral of the development and production expenditure on the Type 45 programme because the reason it is late is that we did not start.

Mr Steinberg

  43. Continuing on the Type 45 destroyer, when we get the report and read the report and we prepare from the report, we are not aware that it is not accurate and not up to date. It is a bit difficult to put reasonable questions if the report is not right. Vice Admiral Blackham is saying that the information given to us on the first three ships is not accurate. Quite frankly I am very pleased that it is not accurate because when I read the report it seemed to me that we were going to get three ships which could not be used if there were submarines in the area, five years late and if any submarine happened to be in the waters near them they could not be used. In other words, these ships could not go to sea. I wrote down that it seemed to me we might as well have commissioned a Dover to Calais ferry for all the use they were going to be. We are now told that in fact there will be sonar and they will be able to go to sea. Is that correct?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It is. I tried to say "guilty as charged". I said I supported the report at the time it was written. I said things move on. The horrific reality of this report helped all of us to change our view.

  44. I appreciate that things do move on but they have moved on to the extent that at one stage these three ships were not going to go to sea because if they had gone to sea where there was a submarine then they could not have been in action and presumably a submarine can go anywhere where there is water provided it is deep enough and therefore these ships were going to be pretty useless. This is what this report clearly said. Things do move on, but they do not move on from a stupid situation to a sublime situation, do they?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Perhaps I may just explain that one of the major considerations in developing this programme has been to make it affordable. The sonar cost will be somewhere about one and a half per cent of the ship price. All along, in terms of making the ship affordable, Admiral Blackham and his staff are always having to look at how to make economies. He comes to my people and asks whether they can do a bit better, whether they can make a bit more room. His top priority is sonar and we have made a bit more room and that is one and a half per cent of the ship's cost and it has now been squeezed in.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It is perhaps worth saying that it was never anybody's wish that the ships go to sea without a sonar. The question was whether it could be ready and could what Sir Robert has just described be done in time for the building of the first ship which we did not wish to delay because of the urgency of getting PAAMS to sea.

  45. I just find it incredible. In paragraph 3.15 of the 2000 report, it says, "In addition to these priority needs, the Navy sees some other equipment as desirable and provision has been made in the ships' design for fitting this equipment to the Type 45 Destroyers in future, if the need arises". Then it gives you three things which might be desirable. Guns for one. When I used to teach special need children they always drew a gun on a ship and they always drew a soldier carrying a gun. It infers we may put a gun onto the ship, we may put on a dedicated anti-submarine warfare. I thought you would not dare to go to sea without these things now. It just seems incredible.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The report was written at a time when the programme was evolving. I explained earlier on that we have designed this ship in about 12 months from the collapse of the CNGF project to bringing it to the state at which we could announce that we were going to place an order.

  46. They used to draw a ship like this and the one thing they put on was a gun—like that—a ship without a gun.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) It will not be without guns.

  47. Can we move onto the AAW system? When was it first perceived that the present anti-armour weapon would need to be changed? When was it first realised that it would have to be modernised? It came into being in 1972. When was it decided that it would need to be updated?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Are we talking about Sea Dart?

  48. No, I am talking about the air-launched anti-armour weapon, the AAW.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Brimstone. I do not know when it was first conceived. It is almost impossible to find out. As the 1999 report said, it was already as near as makes no difference ten years late at that stage.

  49. That is the point I am making. It is ten years late and presumably it was a long time before that that it was decided it would have to be renewed anyway. The point I am trying to make is that although it is ten years late, it is probably in fact 20 years late or 15 years late.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It was ten years late on its first estimate of the in-service date, so I would stick to the ten years. What I can say is that the progress was not steady between initial conception and placing this weapon on contract. It was subject to a great many reviews: should we have it, should we not have it, how it was affected by the end of the Cold War, etcetera. It was a very stumbling path and that is why I am so pleased that in this new report for this year 2000 we are now measuring slippage in in-service date against the date agreed at the major investment decision point. Quite frankly, to characterise Brimstone, which was put on contract in 1996 as a result of an international competition, as already ten years late does not seem to me to do very much to talk about encouraging the project teams, encouraging industry or indeed telling the armed forces what the realities of life are.

  50. When it comes into service over ten years late, you told the Chairman it would be more effective. There is a surprise. I would have assumed that if something comes ten years later than expected it is going to be ten years more advanced when it actually comes than if it had been produced in 1991. Basically if it had been produced in 1991, it would have been out of date now.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It would have had a midlife update programme like so many of the missiles, like Maverick where we talked about it evolving.

  51. When I was reading the report it seemed to me that the best thing to do for procurement of defence is not to buy anything anyway. If you buy it, it is out of date, so you might as well wait until something else comes which will be more up to date.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) It may be a benefit of me failing to deliver things on time, but it is no basis for a strategy because the result of that strategy is that we do not have the right equipment in the front line.

  52. Exactly, and I am being facetious, as you are well aware. It seems to me that you made an excuse that it is going to be more up to date when we actually get it. Of course it is. It is obvious it is going to be more up to date. If you bought a computer ten years ago, that computer now is totally useless and presumably that is the same with arms and weapons. You cannot have a strategy which says let us wait because it might get better.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I can assure you that there are plenty of siren voices who do suggest that from time to time, but eventually you have to draw a line in the sand and get on and procure something. I would draw the distinction—and I am drawing the distinction—between a programme like Brimstone, when no major procurement action was taken until 1996 and something where you buy all the bits back in 1986 and it just takes longer and longer and longer and the bits you then deliver are actually out of date.

  53. Would it not be quite serious? If you read the report, the BL755 is now pretty useless, is it not?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) Nothing I have said is intended to dismiss the seriousness of delivering equipment late. I really must make that absolutely clear. I was saying that one of the byproducts of delivering it late is that it may be more modern than you first expected.

  54. Yes and the point I am trying to make is that that is no excuse because it is pointless having reckoned that you are no good. For example, it says in the 1999 report in paragraph 3.7, that in the Gulf War only half of one per cent of this weapon which went to the Gulf was actually used; only half of one per cent. That must make it to be an absolutely useless weapon, so there is no point having it.
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I think you know the reason for that, which was that at that stage BL755 had to be dropped from a height of around 500 feet. The tactics in the Gulf War changed.

  55. Is there not then a huge waste of money when a useless weapon is updated, a load of money spent on it and we are told then that only five out of every 100 actually worked when it was updated? Is that not just throwing good money after bad?
  (Sir Robert Walmsley) I very much think not. I shall ask Admiral Blackham, if I may, to comment on the effectiveness of BL755.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) I do not think BL755 is a useless weapon: it is not as effective against the modern most up to date armour as it is against other targets. It is extremely effective against soft skinned targets, against patrol cars, against missile launching vehicles and vehicles of that sort, of which there is a very large number which we might find ranged against us. It still has a utility in the totality of our armour. It is therefore worth updating and the update we have given it allows it to be operated at a much greater height and still to focus the cluster bombs it drops over the same small area we could before.

  56. It is upgraded, at a cost which you will be able to tell us, to hit targets which the original useless weapon could have hit anyway. You did not need to update it to hit the actual targets you go for, the soft skinned targets. The BL755 in its original form could get rid of the soft targets, could it not? It did not need updating.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) Except that you had to fly at 500 feet to use it and experience in Kosovo showed us that that was not a practical proposition in all circumstances and that we would need to be able to operate from a medium level. The purpose of the updating is to allow the weapon to be used from an aircraft flying at a medium level.

  57. Does it not say in the report also that even out of the five per cent of the successful hits a huge percentage is useless and you could not use them anyway because they did not actually go off and they become land mines.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) A small number do not go off. There are some 2,000 bombs[1] in one of these weapons and you cannot guarantee that they will all go off.

  58. So the success rate is even less than five per cent.
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) No, what you are concluding is that five per cent, which is a very small number, of these bombs may malfunction. The weapon is useful. The problem is that in Kosovo we were operating from a medium level for which the weapon was not designed or optimised.

  59. But it did not even arrive in time, did it?
  (Vice Admiral Sir Jeremy Blackham) The upgrade did not because the upgrade was commissioned as a result of that campaign[2].

1   Note by Witness: There are some 147 bomblets as explained in the Supplementary Memorandum to Q59 & 60 (See Appendix 1, page 000 (PAC 00-01/170). Back

2   Note: See Evidence, Appendix 1, page 36 (PAC 00-01/170). Back

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